Two weeks after the general elections were concluded across the country, the case of Rivers State stood out like a sore thumb following the suspension of the exercise by INEC on Sunday March 10, 2019. INEC Chairman Professor Mahmoud Yakubu’s Chief Press Secretary Rotimi Oyekanmi had said in a statement, “The Commission was forced to suspend the election due to violence and threats to life as a result of which it constituted a Fact Finding Committee to assess the situation and report back within 48 hours.”
The violence seen in Rivers during the polls featured the reported involvement of men in military gear as well as thugs who were alleged to have disrupted the exercise by snatching ballot boxes, attacking and chasing away electoral personnel and falsifying electoral results, among others. Several lives were lost in various parts of the state. Following the report of the Fact Finding Committee, INEC resumed the collation of the results. It eventually announced the winners, including the incumbent Governor Nyesom Wike of PDP who beat back a challenge from the AAC candidate, supported by the state’s APC branch. Nigerians therefore heaved a sigh of relief that the Rivers State polls had been finally settled, leaving the state to move on.
For keen observers of the Rivers State situation, the eventual turn of events offered no surprise given the twists that marked the build up to the exercise. Long before the polls commenced the state had been embroiled in several acts of indiscretion by some of the leading political actors in the state, the most poignant of which is the acrimony between the former governor and now Minister of Transportation Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi of APC and incumbent Governor Nyesom Wike of the PDP. The two men were close political associates before they fell out and became very bitter political enemies. The soured relationship between Amaechi and Wike has rubbed off on their various supporters, leading to desperate measures by each camp to undo the other.
APC in Rivers State suffered a major blow when it was unable to field candidates in this year’s elections. This arose from the bitter intra-party squabble which led to the courts annulling primaries held by both party factions. Amaechi and other APC leaders then adopted athe largely unknown gubernatorial candidate of the AAC Mr Biokpomabo Awara. The strong showing by the dark horse Awara in the polls elicited intense public concern over the conduct of the exercise.
APC in Rivers State has paid the highest political price for its internal squabbles, which its national leaders allowed to fester for many years without a solution. In the end it could not field candidates but had to resort to the option of adopting the candidate of a small party.
With the polls over, the stage is now set for regular post election reactions including the extant statutory processes for which ever aggrieved party to seek redress. The Constitution envisages that election results may often not enjoy the acceptance of all and sundry and hence makes provision for civilized recourse to justice. We therefore encourage whosoever feels dissatisfied with the outcome of the polls to explore the legal processes so established. Such an option is far superior to any other especially such as would attract further violence in the state.
However, the Rivers State polls provides several lessons for the country’s political class, which include the need for political leaders to be more concerned with the legitimate aspirations and expectations of their followers than their narrow interests in securing power at all costs. Politics as the old maxim holds, is not war, and should not lead to unnecessary bloodshed and loss of life.
Other agencies involved in elections, specially INEC and the security agencies, must also learn their lessons from the Rivers episode. The ugliest part of it was the accusations and counter accusations between INEC and the military at one point. Lessons must be learnt in future to avoid a reoccurrence.